Detector-Free Photothermal Bar-Chart Microfluidic Chips (PT-Chips) for Visual Quantitative Detection of Biomarkers


The volumetric bar-chart microfluidic chips (V-Chips) driven by chemical reaction-generated gas provide a promising platform for point-of-care (POC) visual biomarker quantitation. However, multiple limitations are encountered in conventional V-Chips, such as costly and complex chip fabrication, complicated assembly, and imprecise controllability of gas production. Herein, we introduced nanomaterial-mediated photothermal effects to V-Chips, and for the first time developed a new type of V-Chip, photothermal bar-chart microfluidic chip (PT-Chip), for visual quantitative detection of biochemicals without any bulky and costly analytical instruments. Immunosensing signals were converted to visual readout signals via photothermal effects, the on-chip bar-chart movements, enabling quantitative biomarker detection on a low-cost polymer hybrid PT-Chip with on-chip scale rulers. Four different human serum samples containing prostate-specific antigen (PSA) as a model analyte were detected simultaneously using the PT-Chip, with the limit of detection of 2.1 ng/mL, meeting clinical diagnostic requirements. Although no conventional signal detectors were used, it achieved comparable detection sensitivity to absorbance measurements with a microplate reader. The PT-Chip was further validated by testing human whole blood without the color interference problem, demonstrating good analytical performance of our method even in complex matrixes and thus the potential to fill a gap in current clinical diagnostics that is incapable of testing whole blood. This new PT-Chip driven by nanomaterial-mediated photothermal effects opens a new horizon of microfluidic platforms for instrument-free diagnostics at the point of care.